OK, Time for Our First Entry in SECRETS REVEALED!!!
#1 It’s All About the Sand
Approaching a Grand Canyon rafting trip, all you think about are those thrilling rapids, the blazing sun, and the electrifying/drenching thunderstorms. Your packing list is heavy on waterproof gear, quick-drying clothing, sunblock, and hats. But at least half of your time is spent in the Kingdom of the Sand Demon, and you will be reminded of that for weeks to come, as you find sand in yet another impermeable item.
Think of it this way: the glistening white sand beaches along the Colorado River are formed of particles eroded from a mile of rock—much of it sandstone, no less, and almost all of it the product of eons of marine sedimentary deposition—with the grinding-down happening over five or six million years. All those thousands of thousands of years of tumbling in the river yields sand so fine that it blows right through your tent walls. Yes, really. You will snuggle down to sleep in your little tent with the windows and doors zipped tight (because you did notice all that sand out there and were even sharp enough to notice that the wind tends to shift its direction and roar turbulently down the canyon every evening). And you will wake up with a layer of dust-scale sand all over your gear, your sleeping bag, your mat, and your face.
Yes, beautiful sandy beaches!
So—once you think about it, there is no mystery. Ultrafine sand plus forceful winds equals sand in everything. Most of the time it is a minor annoyance, an opportunity to bond with your travelmates: “Yep, I have sand in my beer/cocoa/coffee/soda/water, too.” Sometimes, it’s just another technical chore, such as brushing the sand out of your waterproof camera housing. But sometimes, it’s a way to mark yourself as a seasoned river-runner: the clean, safe water supply at Phantom Ranch was “turbid” (nanoscale sand, yes?) when we stopped by—so Billie advised the crew to pump water through the team’s super-filters for refills, instead of simply using the Park Service’s ready-to-use water, in order to avoid giving the new arrivals an unpleasant surprise on their first day. We old hands merely filled our bottles at the tap and chugged the wetness gratefully.
On occasion, it’s more than annoying (see my Day Two Morning whine-session). To quickly recover from the more-than-annoying times, bring the following: an eye cup and a tube of liquid tears. If you have any dry-eye issues, make sure to bring your medication. If your weight allowance allows, tuck in a bottle of pH-balanced eyewash. If you don’t need these supplies, fine. But if someone else does, you will make a friend for life!
And to save those supplies for being a hero, apply an ounce of prevention. If you’re a side-sleeper, face away from the tent walls. Tuck a headband in your gear—if you find yourself waking up with sand in your face, use the headband as a night-time eye covering and wash your face in the morning. Shake the sand out of your sleeping gear before packing it away in the morning. Try to keep your hands reasonably clean—humans are always putting their fingers in their eyes, but you sure notice it more when you rub sand into them! And if you must sleep under the stars, tent-free, choose a less-comfortable spot out of the sand-blow. (You’ll realize the guides don’t concern themselves with tents—but they are usually bunking down on their boats. On the water. Away from the sand.)
Keep in mind, this is no excuse to Avoid The Trip. Just one of the Secrets they don’t tell in the literature. To paraphrase one of Clark’s favorite poets, Robert W. Service, “It isn’t the river ahead that wears you out; it’s the grain of sand in your eye”.
Want to read the real quote, and more? A good place to start is Goodreads. Yes. Pun intended.
And remember, add $10 to your budget for:
A proper eye cup. Bring your old glass version if you have one–this is the best plastic one.
Kinder than water and sand-free.
Helpful dose for irritated eyes…not the stinging “red out” stuff.